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Flying Bird Image

When Everybody Called Me Gabe-bines,

Teachings from Paul Buffalo

Timothy G. Roufs (Ed.)
University of Minnesota Duluth

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a note on tenses
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"This project has been financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society."

"This publication was made  possible in  part by the  people of  Minnesota  through  a grant funded by an appropriation  to  the  Minnesota  Historical Society  from the  Minnesota  Arts and Cultural  Heritage  Fund. Any views,  findings,  opinions,  conclusions  or recommendations expressed in this publication  are those  of  the authors  and  do not necessarily represent those of the State of  Minnesota, the  Minnesota  Historical Society, or the  Minnesota  Historic Resources Advisory Committee."

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Buffalo Image

Fireballs,(1) and the "Black-Shadow-Man"(2)

I'm happy to talk to people. I'm happy to talk to all. I talk to anybody that comes in here. I don't say I know it all, I just tell what I believe in. I believe in the good words.

I believe a person should stop and realize there is something that watches them at night. I'm not afraid to walk anywhere in the dark. Why? If I was nervous then I wouldn't believe in the Spirit.

I go anywhere in the dark. I walk any trail, and even when I was a boy I did that. I'd walk through the woods and see fireballs flying around in the woods. I'd see fireballs light right on the tree. I didn't get scared of that. That's true!! . . .

I've seen them. I've met three or four in my time.

The first was along the Leech River. I was traveling at night, walking. I was walking along the meadow on the trail, when I came to the road. At first I thought somebody was coming with his lantern, but then it flared up so bright that it made me stop and take notice.

I kind of sneaked towards it because I thought that it may be somebody's coming.(3) The light dimmed out to a small spark and just disappeared.

That wasn't in my dream. I was bright and young at that time. I was eighteen to twenty years old, I guess.(4)

I told the folks about this when I got home. "I saw something unusual in my life. I saw a fireball."

"Oh, oh," they said, "that's the same fireball that works around here."


"The old people say they've seen that 'round the villages. They try to catch it but they can't. Sometimes it flares up big, and sometimes it dims out. It travels across the stream. It travels fast too -- sometimes -- then she slows down. That's a fireball. The white men called it a meteor, but the Indians call it a spiritual work. It's a messenger." (5)

"Well, what's the message?"

"It's a warning. It's a warning, 'beware.' It tells you beforehand that something is going to happen."

"What is the warning? Could it be bad?"

"It could be an epidemic, sickness coming in. It could be a signal of a change of air or an indication that something's going to happen. It could mean that fire may take a few lives."

A fireball is another thing that they use to send messages. The Indians have a messenger and they send it off. They send a fireball off with a message. It's an animal with stuffing.

That messenger goes to visit this party, this person. Just think. They go visit. And when this party sees this fireball, it isn't good for him.

There were a lot of fires around at that time,(6) and there was a lot of sickness at that time too. There was a sickness around that the whites call the "flu."(7) The "flu" took a lot of lives that time too, but the Indians didn't know what it was. But those fireballs were a warning that something was coming. That's our warning, a fireball.

Fireballs signify that sickness or death or an epidemic or something is coming. A fireball is more of a sign of a sickness coming to the community or to the area, because they go all over. Indians see them on the lakes, they see them along prairies, and they see them in big fields. I think too, that earlier on, the fireballs meant we were heading towards war. It might have been a sign of the blood that was going to be spilled in war. But death, most generally, is warned by other signs.(8) Fireballs mostly mean sickness. Sickness is warned by a fireball, mostly. Fireballs are unusual signs which mean "sickness is coming."

When Indians see that, they're supposed to answer that. They're supposed to give a prayer out, then put something out as an offering to the Great. They're supposed to build a fire and talk to the Great so nothing will happen in this area, so that this danger will be kept out of this track. They talk to the Great Spirit and ask the Great spirit that nothing should happen. They ask the Great to keep the storm -- or a terrible storm in the water -- away. They ask Him to make it so it doesn't hit, so it just dies down.

We used to see quite a few fireballs, especially in the summer. These fireballs travel in the air. 'Specially at night we see them. I am sure that a lot of people saw those fireballs. They saw those fireballs on trails. They met them at night. A lot of them would explain that when they saw a fireball they thought it was a lantern coming, or that they thought somebody was having a campfire. But when they approached it, it was nothing but a small fire. It just dimmed out a little. Some of them felt like grabbing it and destroying it, but they feared it too.

They thought that it might be carrying a message to them from the Indian way. See, the Indians have a belief that they can send messages by animals or by something unusual in nature. We have hides that are meditated.(9) And we fast for two or three days for that power to send out messengers. We have ways to get that power. We put out food, valuables, and other stuff to get that spiritual power. And naturally, when Medicine Doctors do work hard for that Spirit power they become empowered for what they ask for. They have partridges, birds, owls and other animals that act as messengers.

Owls are bad ones as messengers.(10) That's our belief. A partridge could be too.(11) Partridge in Indian is bine. A fireball could be a partridge or it could be a bird of any kind. But it's stuffed and sent out by somebody with power. It's sent out with power. Ya, by one that practices that.


You know what?

I-jII-nii-jày-i-g^n means it's sent out from a power-full Indian, a Medicine Indian, m^ss-kI-kíi-i i-zIn-i-szíi-i-g^'n. It's sent out from a power-full Indian who can make them go. A fireball isn't a fire ball. It isn't just a ball of fire. It's a partridge or some bird stuffed with medicine. If you want to correct it, g^sh-gI-bI'-gi-g^n. biín-d^-$skwà-gii-g^n, would be more plain, it's "stuffing."

Sending out fireballs is called may-aà-ow aàh-o-aa-nI-shi-naa-bày o-chi-gày Ish-ko-dày màa-ji-jàan wàa-ji-jàan. They could use a bird; they could use a partridge; they could use anything. But that's stuffing. When he sends it out, it goes. It's still there when you first see it, but finally it'll vanish.

I saw them come in to our house. That's not very good. That's the one they sent in to my mother's place. That was about forty years ago, thirty-five or forty years ago. . . . Anyway, I was around seventeen, eighteen.

skwa-day-be-bah-ma-dI-sii-mah-gak is fireball. $sko-dày day-baa-màad-Iss-Is-m^-g^k is also fireball. A fireball that travels, that's what it means, ya. bay-baa-màa-i-sii-m^-g^'k $sko-dày . . . . gay-sz^-nay-zíi-i-g^n is message. That's sending out, gay-szay-gii-szíi-i-g^'n.

That's what we believe these fireballs are. We believe that they are the messenger of higher-staff Indians that practice that Indian belief.(12) And you never know who it is that is sending those fireballs. That's the way the fireballs work. . . .

They're a send-off by somebody with power, you might as well say. The white man says its just the same as a meteor with power of some kind, but I don't know. . . . I think it comes from someone with power.

We have traveling meteors too -- traveling lights, you know. That's another thing that's bad, if you see that when you're working around your yard. That's a sign of sickness too. There's sickness coming. Ya, a meteor ball, a fireball. They're both bad signs. We see them up in the north. We see quite a few of them in the fall of the year. If it comes at night you could see the trees a thousand feet away, or a hundred feet away. You could see the trees all around. Then you go for it, and it's just like a cigarette light when you get there. It is true. I have tested them.(13)

Those that see it, those that see this thing -- the comet -- know that sickness and maybe an epidemic is coming. "Flu" and all that stuff is coming for the season. And instead of being cold, it's going to be unusual weather, and a new germ will come alive. There's something above that warns us. A meteor's a warning, the same as a fireball. When those fireballs come, the Indian says, "Oh, oh. We have sickness coming. Whooping cough and all that stuff." They saw them years ago. And when it became the "flu" epidemic, oh boy!, it took a lot of them. See, there's going to be death on there when you see a meteor or fireball. It comes. Maybe something above drops down -- like a sickness or something -- cutting down the population, maybe.

FLU: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

So how many people died?

We had one funeral right after another in Deer River. All the elders passed away. So that's what it means. All that stuff you see that's unusual, when it comes, it has something to do with that fireball.

Some people say, "We see all this, but nothing happens."

But there's plenty happening.

Think deep.

"This ain't over with yet . . . ," that's how I answer that. "Don't be too sure that nothing will happen. You never can tell. It isn't over with yet. This is still the year that you saw it. Wait until the final before you speak. Here it comes. And when it arrives re‑collect all this that's happening."

There's another way to figure that. Your kids took affect too -- you know, your young children.(14)

New kinds of diseases are coming. Everything is changing. This world could be changed as well. It happened to most people years before. It's the Spirit above that changes things. It's the Great above the earth that changes the earth, that changes the climate of the natural life of the people. We're not going to be able to live over and over in the same channel always. There's going to be something new, judging by all these messengers that come down now. You'll see something great. You'll see something like a Thunderbird. When they see big storms this summer they remember that.

One time I was with a boy from Mille Lacs. He was about twenty. At that time there were quite a few Indian boys around there in their twenties, eighteens, twenties. When I was walking with this boy I met another fireball. We met it by my place when we were going home to take care of the stock for the evening and stay home. We were harvesting rice and were going home. I had to go home and take care of the stock and see that they were taken care of for the next day, and my friend tagged along. We were walking on our way and we met one of these lights.

He was a perfect Indian boy. He was right from the Indian reservation. He was from a different reservation than where I lived. He was from up at Mille Lacs. I presume he was living up there. A lot of the people from Mille Lacs respect a lot of things.(15) They respect another Indian. They respect the spiritual things they see.

We were walking home and we met this "lantern." At first I thought it was a lantern coming. It followed me, me and this other boy. We saw a light as we were walking, in the dark. And I said to him, I said, "Look at this. You see that light?"

"Where is it?"

It's just like a flash from the sky, you know, coming in through the old wagon trail. It must‑a been coming about three hundred feet away on the wagon trail. It was high land there, and I stopped and said to the boy, "What is that?"

He looked around. "Where is it?"

"It's right there!! Right up the tree there."

"Oh," he said, "I think I see something. . . . That's one of them fireballs. It may be spiritual work.(16) It may be a warning. There's something gonna happen. Maybe we're gonna have sickness. It's just a warning that we're in danger."

"That's unusual for me to see one, but I've heard about that," I told him. It lit up on the trees and I told him, "We should destroy that."

"Well" he said, "if we destroy it, we're hurting the one that sent the messenger. We shouldn't hurt it, but we'll give it a scare anyhow."

I had a gun, so I shot up in the air and this thing left. We never saw it any more, at that time. See, that's what we did.

That light just went out to a small dim. Then it dimmed out total. And my friend, he's an Indian -- a full-blood, he's a full-blood Indian pal of mine -- he said, "That isn't good."

And he's supposed to know.

Then this boy said to me, "Well, that'll settle that. It may go somewhere else, but we're in danger when we see one of those fireballs. It's a warning."

"Well, it could be," I said. "I've heard the old people talk about fireballs. I've heard about it," I said. "It isn't good."

We both had a feeling.

"Well, what do you think?" he said.

"I think it's sickness coming, maybe in the neighborhood. Maybe somebody who had sent a message is suffering."

It was just a fireball. All we could figure out was that it's just a messenger. We figured that it may be a partridge; it may be a night hawk; it may be a medicine bird.

Well, we didn't think much more of it and we went right on. So we told when we got home, "We saw a light on."

I asked the older class, "What's going to happen?"

"That's an unusual thing. A fireball says something. That's a message. It's a message. I think there'll be a sickness. You'll see a sickness showing up in the world."

"It's a message, maybe sickness; maybe it's somebody in trouble; maybe it's mourning?"

So that's what they said. We went by it too, most of it -- most of it. It was a bad sign, bad signals.

Sure enough, that was during the end of the First World War, and that "flu" was on -- and it took a lot of people too.(17) Those fireballs were seen all over. That was bad. It was unusual to see. There was that sickness at that time, an epidemic. And the War.

I have another friend-who-I-think-is-still-living that saw fireballs too. We saw a fireball when we were walking along the Mississippi, in there by the Mississippi Forks.(18) He said, "Whooo! There's a messenger with a bad warning. It's a bad warning." He was taught that even though he was younger than I was.

"I know it," I said, "but I hope it isn't for us."

"Un huh."

"If you don't shoot that fireball," he said, "one of us is going to have trouble."

"Well, it's only a fireball," I said. "Why I don't believe in shooting that," I said. I was thinking about what my friend from Mille Lacs told me. "I'm young you know. I don't believe in shooting that."

"Yes!" he said, "shoot! It's true. If we don't shoot that, we'll have trouble!"


He's an Indian boy.(19) So I pulled up my gun and I shot it four times.

"I'll go there in the morning to see this, to see if there's any bones or feathers or anything left."

I went back the next morning to check, and there was nothing but bark. But this fireball came down the road and lit before us. It came down and then it lit on a tree, on a Norway pine. And then, when we were about forty feet away, I shot it. The fireball came, but nothing happened. I cured it. I stopped the message. It couldn't get to me.

Well . . . it was a bad warning. After we saw that fireball the damage struck. Sickness came. "Flu" took a lot of lives of the people that time. But with my family, there was only a little sickness around, you know, with that "flu."

Ya. That fire flying around is a warning. See? Fireballs are warnings to things.

And when I saw another one we had just about the same sickness. And that winter, I don't know just what year, but the world was supposed to come to an end.(20) That was in 1918, I guess. And that shook up a lot of people. That's something too. But I think that it didn't.(21) There was supposed to be some meteor hit this world, or something, but they say it passed.

In my earlier times we talked a lot about the end of the world. That included some other unusual events, like the sun disappearing. We see signs with the sun too. In my times there was a big ring around the sun and another ring around the moon. All around and about the sun there were red rings, thick rings. Everybody said that it was the end of the world. And they asked one another, "Well, what could that be?"  

Sun Halo & Trees. Portland, Oregon, n.d.

Sun Halo, Portland, Oregon, n.d.

Wikimedia Commons

  Original file

Moon Halo, Boulder, Colorado, 2007.

Moon Halo, 2015.

Photographer: Gladson Machado

Wikimedia Commons

 Original file

"It's reflection."

"Why wasn't it that way before?" They argued so much about that. Even the sun had them puzzled. Boy that's something that I've seen.

And I've seen the time that day turned to night.(22) I've seen the time -- I don't think a lot of those alive now were born yet -- when daylight went dark. In the middle of the day everything went dark! You couldn't find your axe, or cant hook,(23) or see your horse in front of you, it was so pitch dark. Everybody hollered, "The world has ended." We stood there about, oh, about ten minutes, and she commenced to brighten up again. There was a total eclipse of the sun and the moon. It turned everything dark. I couldn't see my horse in front of me, so I just stood still. The boss said, "Stand still boys. We'll get the daylight back."

Boy, I tell you that was something!

 Total solar eclipse of 25 January 1924 that Paul talks about.

Total solar eclipse of 25 January 1924 that Paul talks about.
(from Middletown CT).

  Source: Slocum

I see the stars shining. I see the wonderful -- at times -- blue sky. I see everything on schedule. In the darkness of the night the moon stays, but the big thing is the sun.

Is that gold? What's behind the sun? What keeps it up? How's the sun there? It's always there. It'll never be down.

Sun dog at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, 2013

Sun dog at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, 2013.

Photographer: Sarah Inouye-Leas / USFWS

United States Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Region

  Original file

We asked about that years and years ago. I heard, "When is the earth going to be destroyed?"

And my people said, "It'll never be destroyed, but the people will destroy the earth. They will destroy it themselves. People will destroy themselves if they don't be careful."

And they are destroying it themselves, and faster now. It's a blow-up. Then disease begins, fire begins, heat begins. Maybe there'll be floods; maybe there'll be fires if there isn't any water. But you can't destroy this whole world by fire. This earth has three times as much water as land.

You cut an apple twice and you have four quarters. There's four quarters in an apple -- you know that -- or any fruit. There's four quarters when you cut anything twice -- one way and then the other. Three of those quarters you cut are water. One is land. You're always going to find more water and less land. There's more water in this earth than land. What little land we have people should take care of. They should take care of that island.

And sometimes the water'll be raised. See, that happened once before. There was a flood.

And they saw something on the ocean that looked like a big high house that dropped in the ocean. I don't know what there was, but I heard about it. Those days it took quite a while to get any news on anything. It looked like a big house, but gradually it went out of sight.

Now they say when the world comes to an end it'll be by a bad disease that affects a lot of them. And that disease will spread through water and through the food you eat, if it is not clarified. Then your weakness begins, and the epidemic begins. And there'll be signs for that too. Sure! There'll be signs for the end of the world.

The winter of one of the years the world was supposed to end was cold! That winter, boy it was about twenty-five, thirty-five, forty, and fifty below for ten days straight. I think that was 1916.(24) That was really the coldest winter I ever took. But we never noticed it in the woods. Me and another guy, Mr. Michaud -- Charlie Michaud -- we took the team and went out in the woods. He's living yet. When we breathed, our clothes were just like you had been in Alaska. You couldn't run. The air was so cold you'd freeze yourself inside. The horses had so much moisture they were all white with frost. The moisture came out of their noses and made icicles. That was cold! But we had to go get some meat. We got the meat loaded on the sled, and we got back fine and dandy.

And we had to keep warm. That was what happened after I saw the next fireballs. I believe that was why I saw that unusual fireball -- it was a warning. It was a warning. I believe there's always a warning when something is brewing up. The warning's generating from the earth maybe. I heard them say that in time you may see the end of the world. Now this earth is so much polluted by gas, fumes, and other things, that anything could happen. There could even be an explosion. A ray‑light of the sun on the earth might even start a combustion. You never know; that's what we're afraid of, pollution.

I asked The Indian,(25) "I wonder how the world will ever end."

And he said, "I don't know. Nobody knows. But the world might be destroyed by some explosion. Or a flood again -- we already had a flood. Or a fire again -- we already had a fire."

We had the Cloquet Fire around 1919 . . . 1918. The Hinckley Fire was a lot earlier. We never paid much attention to what year it was. Anyway, the year's in the record books. That's the time there was a big fire all over the country too. And that was the same time those big fireballs were going around all over. That fall -- late in the fall -- there came a big wind and fire ran right through. It ran through timbers. It wasn't somebody putting it there either. It was a generation by the weather; the cold air and the heat became a fireball, they say. That fireball explodes, you know. That's a study of the general nature of the earth they give us to live on. If we just don't think of anything like that we become almost lost, you might as well say. But studying like that you can almost expect anything to happen.

The fireball is from back a-ways. The spirituals don't send that meteor or that fireball stuff much now-a-days, because it might light on somebody that you wouldn't want it to light on. Once in a while, in the fall, you'll see it, but we don't pay any attention to it. It travels along the rivers and meadows mostly. There's something else taking place.

Something else -- like a meteor or a flying saucer -- is taking its place. I was thinking about fireballs the other day when they were talking about flying saucers on the radio. A flying saucer in Indian is called $sko-dày bay-baa-màh-sIn, it's the same as "fireballs-floating-in-the-air." Fireballs look like they're floating in the air. I think after the fireballs quit then they saw these flying saucers. Maybe they got higher. Could be that the fireballs just got higher. Maybe that's what's stepping into the fireball's tracks. I don't know, I've only seen one flying saucer.

I was re‑collecting in my shack as I laid down to sleep there. And the window was right there by my bed. I saw that flying saucer come over the trees. I thought I seen it once before, but not close, you know. But this one was closer. The way it came over my area, I figure it was about four thousand feet high. It maybe got away from that radar(26) and it went by. And whatever it is I can't make out yet. It was kind of like a plate, a big plate, but tipped on its edge. It was long‑like, and looked just like a cigar butt. There was a guy sleeping next to me. He was so sound asleep that I hated to wake him up. Oh, he'd'a growled like a bear. He may not have seen it anyway. But I looked out the windows. To make sure, I put on my glasses. And just about that time some of the others must‑a been seeing that too. Today they still don't make out what it is. I don't either. I never went that distance. I never studied about it, but I know there is something about them. So I've seen it. I never made a report of it. I never bothered with it, but I know what the people were talking about . . . "flying saucers."

So I think I've seen a flying saucer that time. But I don't think, I really don't think that flying saucer is a fireball. In Indian we call it similar to a fireball, but that's just because we call it like it is, "floating-on-air."

The last time that somebody saw a real fireball was about, oh, about twenty-two, or something like that. But I never asked if anybody's seen one since! And nobody's told me about one. . . .  They're scared to talk to me about it. . . .


Because I might tell them it's bad luck.

See, it isn't very good luck when you see an unusual sight like that. That means something's going to happen. See, when those fireballs were flying around, there were lots of them. We saw lots of them that year.(27) I'd say there were two, three hundred of them here and there, at the villages. When they'd see them they'd know the message was "Beware!"

"That's Beware!" the old folks told us.

"What to beware?" we'd ask.

"Beware of sickness. Sickness is going to come."

That was the "flu." A lot of them died that year. . . .

I've heard a lot of the old people talk about fireballs. They tried to catch them too, when they were young. My people would try to catch them. You can't catch them. They'll flare up just like a big ball of fire, and then they'll go down into a small fire.

I'm talking about fireballs, in the season when we had lots of them. They were quite interesting in my time. I listened to the Indian way of life, the Indian way of belief in the Great Spirit. They had signs beforehand when something was going to happen. And somebody, like me, or somebody else, could interpret these signs coming beforehand. They could also interpret signs coming from another world. That happened once when a fireball kept coming back to a child's grave.

They put one grave in a graveyard that was of a child about eight or seven years old. I'm not naming the one.(28) The priest's home was near the graveyard and every time he looked at the grave late at night he saw a fireball on it. Every time he looked out, he saw a fireball right on top of the grave. It looked like a hand. This priest was shocked, so he had to let the news of it out. He asked the Indians, as a group, "I see a fireball on that grave. Will anybody tell me why I see that every night?"
Indian Graves, ca. 1935.

Indian Graves, ca. 1935.

Painter: Dewey Albinson (1898-1971)

Art Collection, Oil, ca. 1935
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. AV1979.233.1 Negative no. 61649

One of the great leaders said, "I'll tell you why. I believe in God, the Manidoo. The young people of eight and nine years old should know of God. The newborn baby hasn't got a chance. They might know God, but we don't know what they're thinking of. But a child of this age should know of God. And he should respect the things that we respect. This child didn't learn respect. OK? Now . . . the only remedy . . . is to suggest some punishment."

The priest's house was close to the grave.

"The only remedy I can give you is to take anything you can use as a switch and when you see that light again, whip it."

"They forgot to put him away with a little punishment. That's a sin from the father and mother, who got their sins confessed. They didn't switch the child when it was of age, and given how old he was, he should have been switched."

So the priest had to go whip that hand 'till it went out. The priest whipped that and he never saw that fireball again.

So the boy came back from the dead. He came back. He was trying to say, "You forgot something. You forgot the punishment." Maybe he found out he couldn't get in there -- into the next world -- because he was a bad boy.


In my times people came back from the dead. Sometimes a close relative, or a friend, or a neighbor comes to you in your dreams and visions after they had died.(29) Sometimes they come back after they died, but before they left for the next world.(30) The dead might come back in dreams at any time. In dreams they might come same way as when God comes to me when I'm sleeping. He wanted to say something, but He just showed me His hand.(31) Well, that's the same way it is with the others who come back.

I'm telling you about in my days when I was a boy. That's when we were living at the same place that we worked way up there in the neck of the woods of the Leech River.(32) We always work with a good Spirit. We felt that we were very religious. That's when the Catholics came in. We believe in the good Testament -- the Old Testament -- that they brought. We sized that up in the Indian way. I think it was proven and it means well for all. We worked hard. It was Sunday, you know, when that family gathered. We had neighbors, friends, and two or three families who came for a forest gathering. They came to a meeting way up there in the woods, in a log cabin. We had big log cabins, and nice gardens.(33) That's what I'm talking about.

Indian family in front of log home., ca. 1915.

Indian family in front of log home, ca. 1915.

Photographer: Ross A. Daniels

Photographs, ca. 1915
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. AV1979.17.35 Negative no. 54722

One time we were gathered in the log cabin for Catholic services. We had a kitchen, a big log-cabin kitchen. It was very beautiful, but it was hot as bricks in there. 'Course we had it fixed up in the front room because we lived there. And that's where we'd gather. So in the front room we were singing Catholic hymns in Indian. And we all liked that, and we were pretty good at it. Even the boys, the children, joined when we gathered. And our old people joined too. Then we'd have a lunch.

The womenfolks were preparing lunch about ten o'clock, in the kitchen. I happened to go toward the kitchen and as I went in through the door entering the kitchen I saw the women rushing towards us. I rushed backwards. The women looked kind-a pale.

One woman said, "Did you see it?"

"Ya, just clear, in the big window. I saw something in the window. It was just like a man with gloves on -- black gloves. A man dressed in black. It was a man. It was a man."

Some Catholics think the devil sometimes frightens people that way too. And they think your guardian angel is working with you to work against that. So your guardian angel's what spirit you're going to go with if you're Catholic. That's appointed for you. If you're Catholic and you believe in that strong enough, your guardian angel will work it out with the devil. That's OK. But the Indian has additional ways.

I was about thirteen or fourteen years old. And they were so shocked they couldn't hardly talk. They were scared to go in the other room and feed the gathering. I think that the old man -- my stepfather, Jack Nason(34) -- meditated the group by holy water, which he believed the spirit should work with. He was a white man and he believed in that holy water. And he came up with prayer, talking to the Great Spirit to protect us from this dressed-in-black man. Then we commence to feel all right again.

See, that proves it that time. I know. I still have brothers -- I guess -- who remember that time. Some brothers remember that time. But this other party here that saw that, one and two or three others, are not living now. I don't think any of them is left.

The people walking around inside the house looked up and saw this man, a man we call "black-shadow-man." This shadow who they see, is jíi-bày$ ^-m^'-mI'ss in Indian. If I'm telling it, this means -- in the long way of putting it -- "I saw a person in the spirit of his life with my dream as not true." Maybe it's true, but it's next to a ghost dream.

A ghost dream is gíi-bi-àa-m^-níss. àa-m^&-nI'ss is that it shows you've seen something that isn't true.(35) jíi-bày, that's the grave, past, next to a grave. gii-bày is he may be ready to die, ready to leave this country. OK. jii-bày- ^-g^-mI'g is not living. jii-b^'-ay-g^-mI'g, gii-bày-^-m^'-nIss is a ghost. gii-bày-^-m^-níss means he comes to see the one he wanted to talk to, but he doesn't say a word. He's just showing that he's going to leave. Maybe it's for better. Maybe it's for good. It's "shadow-man" -- you might as well say -- gii-bay-ah-mah-nIss.

The old-timers speak about it lots. Well, there wouldn't be many old people left now to speak about it. The older class saw a lot of that, but the younger class doesn't have time. They just lie down and slumber and they get up. But they dream though.

Ya, the old-timers have seen that and . . . well . . . they know when to tell about it. They know where to tell about it. They might tell you, "I've seen that. Sure! No, lets's see . . . jii-bày-^'-m^-nIss . . . that's way . . . way back, maybe, so far back. . . . There was one. . . . No, I didn't see it. I heard it. I heard the sound."

Sometimes, when there's a sound knocking on the door and you go there and nobody's there, that's jíi-ay-bi-ah'-m^-nI'ss too.

Some people will tell you they see things. My mother, one time, saw something. We were home and it was about, oh, nine, ten, o'clock at night. It was time that everybody should be prepared for going to bed. My mother was going outside,(36) in the dark, so she opened the kitchen door. There was nobody outside. Everybody was inside. Nobody was outside, and nobody could go by because the river was on both sides where we lived.

When she got to the door she saw a man in a white collar, with a watch chain. He was dressed in a suit, and had a hat on and everything.

She stood there and looked at him. He wouldn't speak, and she couldn't speak. He didn't come to talk with her; neither one of them could say anything. . . .

No! You can't talk to them. If the spirits don't talk, they're dead -- or coming into death. But if they talk, then they're alive. That's how we know they're dead or alive. When they're dead you get the chills. You can't talk to the dead spirit . . . . You can't talk to the ghost . . . . Maybe, on a special visit, he goes to see the best friend that he's got. Maybe the one my mother saw that time was asking for a prayer, a prayer from my mother or dad. He's saying, "Help me. I'm leaving." But he's not talking.

 . . . She just looked at him. Then she just turned around and closed the door. As she did that she fell inward. "Oh," she said, "Oohh."

That affects the heart, the brain, the body, and your whole system when you see that.

And there were two or three of us at the door, including the girls. I think it was John Thompson's son, Ed -- Ed Thompson; yea. Yaah. He came over to see the Nason village. Well, he came there regular anyhow, before, ya.

Everybody jumped up. Somebody said, "What's the matter Ma?"

"Well, I saw somebody out there. . . .  I saw somebody out there."

"How did he look?"

"He was dressed in a suit of clothes, with white shirt, vest, and watch chain. And he had a hat on. The garb that I saw him in was just perfect. He was dressed with buttons and everything. That's why I closed the door. I could see through the dark, and I saw an Indian dressed like a white man."

What my mother called a "button," it isn't a button -- it's just a showing of what he is. It's like an identification, a badge. In Indian we call it na-d^-ko-wàa-g^n. You use it like an identification button, ya.

She took a drink of water and that straightened her up. Then she went to bed.

That was a long time ago. I was about nineteen . . . eighteen or nineteen, when that happened.

The next morning we saw a man coming across the Mississippi River. We lived on the south side of the Mississippi. He was coming from on the north side. I don't know who was coming. It was some neighbor Indian, and I forgot his name. I think he had a brother too. Boy I wish we could think of his name! I think I have to go back and pick up his name. He had a boat there, on the other side of the river, and he got in the boat and came across the river in it. That wasn't his boat. We always had a boat on both sides. It was our boat, and it was for the people to cross the river. When he got to this side he came in the house and told the death news to us.

This man died, and when my mother saw him lying in the coffin at the wake she said, "That's the man I saw." And she said, "I saw him. And when he died," she said, "he came here before he died." The man I saw was him. He was here at the door last night. I saw him in the dark. He came to this place and wanted to talk, but we didn't say anything. I saw his spirit who was down there to see us."

It was some old Indian, one of the neighbors toward town there. His place was at the old townsite, the Indian village up there north of Ball Club. That was Old John Thompson's place. Old John Thompson had a son, Ed Thompson. Well, it could be a different whole relative; I don't know which way is which with Thompsons. But I think he was Old John Thompson's son . . . Ed. He was the one who was always dressed up. He was an Indian. But he wore a whole suit, a blue suit, with a white shirt. He was always dressed like that. My mother saw him right there, at the door, in the dark, at our place. His place was two, three, miles up the river. Then the next morning a party came and told us, "He died last night."

His spirit -- his free spirit, his spirit of life -- came over here to see the people at Nason village.(37)

He came to our place. He goes to see just one person . . . one place. Oh, sometimes you hear it that some spirit someplace has seen more than one, that he's been over there too. . . . No. A spirit will go to just . . . just, one. He could go to a couple places in the dark, but he doesn't.

It is true. Yea! It is true! That's a fact! Not only I know that, but a lot of them know it. That's what the Indian believes. The Indian knows all that stuff. They really know that! They really know when something's going to happen. They go by unusual sights, and unusual signs, and unusual dreams, and everything like that.

You see, it's proven. I have even seen people that didn't believe in anything see those spirits. They were happy. They were nice . . . nice . . . and they're living on earth. And I looked at them. They didn't believe in God, or they didn't believe in the Great Spirit -- that's God, the Manidoo . . .  and they still saw them.

Manidoo, that's the Great Spirit. His messengers are the spirit and the 'lectric in the air. His messengers could be thunder, signals, stars, birds -- you don't know. It's the same thing as when a man -- a "shadow-man" -- shows up, and you don't know that man.

A "shadow-man" could be a messenger too; sure, he'd do it. You'll see. The Indians see him around, in person. The old people see him big.(38) They knew what messengers are there for. They'd turn around and look and they'd see them, in the olden days. Some other people -- especially white people -- thought that they imagined that. But they really saw it. And they really saw him -- the shadow-man -- standing in the window at the log cabin, in the olden days. But it was nothing that interfered with them when he came. He just appeared, then left. Even that dressed-in-black man they saw in the window didn't interfere with anybody.

They'd see a man standing in the window, dressed in black, just like a brother.(39) But they didn't see him long. The spirit comes home, but just for a short time. Just a blink of the eye and he was gone. In the olden days, my grandfather, well, he saw that too. I know some of his children that will prove that yet.

My grandfather also saw his daughter when he was way up there on the Leech River on the other side of Mud Lake!(40) There was nobody around . . . not a soul around. He went to cut wood. And he was a great man. He believed and had great religion, that man. He went out to split wood. He was all alone. And he swung the axe, and he looked towards the house.(41) He saw his daughter standing there. He looked at his daughter clearly. It was daylight yet that evening and standing there was his daughter. And he didn't, he couldn't, talk to her. She came that evening. She wanted to talk to him. But she didn't say anything, and he put down his head and he split again. He felt all right that morning, and he felt all right even when he saw the sight.(42) He hit another chunk of wood with his axe. He looked again and she was gone. That was evening.

His daughter went up there and wanted to talk to him. She probably had a big thing to ask her old man. She probably wanted to ask her old man for some spiritual favor. He already knew that she had no problem, and that "The Road" for her(43) was clear. This old man had a lot of . . . Spirit.(44)

At two o'clock that night, three o'clock that night, there was a guy from Ball Club who walked all the way up there(45) with a lantern, and told him, "Your daughter died last night." This party went up to get the old man. There were white men up there at Mud Lake who went along to deliver the message to him.

So they came; they came down. They knew him, and they walked him right down(46) to Ball Club.

Right away he came home, and found it to be true. Sure enough, she was dead. So he told right there, "But I saw my daughter, last night. When did she die?"

"Ya? She died . . . She died . . . yesterday evening. . . . She died that night, ya. She got . . . the flu got her."

The old man wasn't filling in.(47) He saw her all right.

It was a warning you know. The old man told afterwards that there was something wrong. He told the folks, some of the folks -- his wife, probably -- "I was splitting and I saw a warning and I knew there was something wrong. I saw a warning."

He told how he saw her on a porch. He wondered -- when he was splitting wood he wondered -- "What she's up here for?" He never said a word to her. . . . She never said a word to him, and he never said a word to her. He just looked. Oh, I imagine they were about a hundred feet apart. And he kept on splitting wood. When he looked again, she was gone. He walked in the house; there was nobody there. So he commenced to feel that it was a warning of something. At two o'clock that night -- or sometime after midnight -- the message came to him by foot. They said, "Your daughter has passed on."

I'm telling you about this old man who saw his daughter, and that was when the "flu" was around pretty heavy. And that was in 1918 -- after 1918,(48) I guess. Somewhere in there, the "flu" was heavy. Everybody was getting attacked of it. They didn't know what it was. Some got sick in the morning and were dead by nightfall. Some of them got fevers so high on it that they just couldn't take it.

And so we were worried about the old man when he went up to the claim he had on the Leech River over there on the other side of Mud Lake. We were kind of worried about him getting an attack alone up there. But he was bound(49) to go alone, and everybody didn't feel good about it. So I always wondered about that time when he saw his daughter on the porch. I always wondered about that, and if the "flu" was taking effect on him. Sometimes sickness makes you see things you know.

See, now-a-days they tell you -- if you see things like that -- that you only imagine you see those things. I read about it too. It states that if you don't feel good -- with high fever -- there's some ailment in your system, and when you see objects -- see things -- you only imagine you see them.(50)

But we take -- the Indians take -- this seeing things serious. It's a hint, or it's a warning, which we believe in. It's a warning. So sure enough, when my grandfather heard that -- that night at two o'clock, two, three o'clock . . . past midnight . . . -- when somebody came and told him that his daughter had passed away with the "flu," he already had a warning.

So, they came down. They had a wake.

And there were quite a few of them who passed away at that time. It was hard to hold that "flu" down at those days. But they found a way, by using fumigation. Sulphur was good too -- burning sulphur. That's something that'll break away your inhalement to the lungs, and purifies the air. And that helped lots. And, besides that, they had an Indian method that they went through that saved them. They purified by using their own herbs. There's a lot of things that they could use for a sickness like that, which helped them. So a warning like that, you know, the Indian believes in.

The Indian always believes warning sights. But the Indian is not superstitious the way white people talk about superstitious. Sure, we believe in what we see.(51) There's too much of this stuff going on not to believe it. But now-a-days they say if you see things -- even including objects -- that it's just because you don't feel good somewhere. The truth remains to be seen yet. You may not feel good. Sure! That pressure generated by my grandfather's own daughter -- he felt it. Sure! The blood in the woman and the blood he was carrying were the same, so he was bound to feel it. He was bound to feel it. So the weakness was there somewhere, see, and he felt it in his body. So that stands as a point there. See? There was something wrong, and he felt it. And he had weakness a little bit, you know, by the seenery of this person that was already passed away. He felt it. Naturally he would -- he had the same blood as his daughter.

That's how the Indian understands things. They study that. They study those warnings or seen
ery or sights, and when something's coming forward they know it, most generally. And they have a method for that, to get ahead of that.(52) At least they try to. Sometimes it works, sometimes something interferes. Most of the time it works. In their belief they have things to do to help themselves to avoid it. It helps to study that, and it helps to understand the signs and feelings.

You know, you can almost tell when there's something coming in, coming forward to you. You can feel something's coming -- which often isn't very good. Wait 'till you see things the way we do, then you'll see. We hear things too. That's another thing. Now it's proven -- it's proven out -- that when the Indian hears a dog howl -- near the house, in an unusual way -- that's a bad signal too. Something's going to happen.

Now the whole country's getting so old now we don't know what is going to happen. And we're getting too educated. People don't believe in anything. Most of the people don't believe in signs now-a-days. All they believe in is money. And I don't blame them, because there's no production from the soil; there's not enough anyway. There's going to be a shortage of food. The population's so fat that we're going to be very short of food in this world.(53) And that's coming fast. There's a price for food storage; it costs money to store it, but we'll have a shortage if we don't be careful. And if we run into a bad season of a crop, then it's going to be worse. We might strike a bad season. The crop won't mature. That's what dangers us.

There's going to be a lot of hungry people. There are a lot of hungry people now. The country, the biggest part of the world, is run by the government. They won't let you plow what you want. . . .(54)  You're only allowed to plant so much. . . . You're only allowed to produce so much in that area. . . . That's all because of the government price supports.

There's a lot of that stuff that I saw in the past. We had very good production. We had lots of crops, but there was no price in it. Now they dump a lot of stuff and bury it to hold up the price. That's price support. You know that. You read about it too. Now, in other countries, they're hungry too. A lot of the hungry would give any amount of money to get that mouthful to eat.

The old Indian said when the world comes to an end sickness will spread through water and through the food we eat. The disease begins, fire begins, heat begins. Then the epidemic begins. They always said the people will destroy the earth themselves. They are destroying themselves faster now. People will destroy themselves for good . . . if they're not careful.

We already see signs of that. . . . Well, some see the signs; others take no notice. But then . . . on the other hand . . . nobody sees those fireballs any more.


1. For other references to fireballs see Barnouw, Victor, "Reminiscences of a Chippewa Mide Priest," Wisconsin Archaeologist, 35 (1954):4:83-112; Sister Bernard Coleman, O.S.B. Where the Water Stops: Fond du Lac Reservation. Duluth, MN: College of St. Scholastica, 1967); Sister M. Inez Hilger, O.S.B. 1936, "Chippewa Customs," Primitive Man [now Anthropological Quarterly], 9:2:17-24; Ruth Landes, Ruth. "The Abnormal Among the Ojibwa Indians." Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 33 (1938):1:14-33; Ruth Landes, Ojibwa Religion and the Midewiwin. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968; Reprinted, N.Y.: AMS Press, 1969); Frank A., Myers (Comp.), "The Bear-walk," Inland Seas, 9:12-18, 98-103, 169-174, 250-254; and Mentor L. Williams, ed., Schoolcraft's Indian Legends from Algic Researches, the Myth of Hiawatha, Oneota, the Red Race in America, and Historical and Statistical Information Respecting . . . the Indian Tribes of the United States. (East Lansing, MI: State University Press, 1956.)

2. For more information on spirits of the dead and related matters see Hallowell, A. Irving. "Spirits of the Dead in Saulteaux Life and Thought," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland," 70 (1940), pp. 29-51; and Hallowell, A. Irving. 1964, "Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior, and World View." In Primitive Views of the World. Ed. by Stanley Diamond. New York: Columbia University Press, 49-82. (Reprinted.).

3. Ibid.

4. That would have been 1918-1920. Cf., Ch. 26, "Dreams and Visions."

5. See Ch. 31, "Spiritual Doctoring, Tipi-Shaking, and Bone-Swallowing Specialists," and Ch. 33, "Messengers and Unusual Events."

6. This was the time of the regionally devastating Cloquet Fire of 1918, the most notable fire of the time.

7. This was also the time of the great flu pandemic of 1918, the Spanish flu. This flu epidemic began world-wide in 1918, and by 1920 nearly twenty-two million people had died. Locally the epidemic was extremely serious and took a lot of lives.

8. See Ch. 33, "Messengers and Unusual Events."

9. For a discussion of the importance of hides, see Ch. 29, "Midewiwin: Grand Medicine."

10. Cf., Ch. 33, "Messengers and Unusual Events."

11. Paul is talking about ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) when he talks about "partridges." Ruffed grouse, native to Minnesota, are commonly, although incorrectly, called "partridges." Partridges (Perdix) were introduced to North American from Europe in the early 1900s, and are unrelated to ruffed grouse. In North America "true partridge" territory is more typically west/northwest/southwest of northern Minnesota. The Ojibwa People's Dictionary translates "partridge" as "bine . . . a partridge; a ruffled grouse [ruffed grouse: Bonasa umbellus]" Accessed 19 June 2018.

12. Higher ranking members of the Midewiwin. Cf. Ch. 29, "Midewiwin: Grand Medicine," and Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women."

13. He has seen both fireballs and "traveling meteors" and has tried different things with them, as he will later describe.

14. Sometimes a negative reaction or bad effect will come to a relative of the person offending or seeing the fireball, rather than to the person him/herself. Thus if you do something wrong, you might be alright, but the ill effect is felt by your children. It could also be a brother or other relative. It could also be a member of your dodaim, your patrilineage. Fireballs, however, seem to be more of a warning for the community as a whole.

15. A lot of them follow traditional Indian beliefs.

16. It may be a messenger sent by a Spiritual Doctor. Cf., Ch. 33, "Messengers and Unusual Events," Ch. 29, "Midewiwin: Grand Medicine," and Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women."

17. That was 1918, and as mentioned above, the Spanish flu epidemic began world-wide in 1918. Locally the epidemic was extremely serious and took a lot of lives.

18. See Ch. 39, "Leech and Mississippi Forks."

19. Paul is noting that "he is an Indian boy" who "was taught that" and, therefore, one who should know.

20. For e.g., The Jehovah's Witnesses, through their teachings and through their Watchtower literature (and the equivalent in England and other countries worldwide), predicted that the world would end in the spring of 1918 -- after unsuccessfully predicting that it would end in 1914. In addition to the general "traditional" discussions in the Anishinabe world about the end of the world (Cf., for e.g., Ch. 28, "What's Behind the Sun?: An Indian Sermon") there was much discussion in the non-Indian world at the time about the end of the world. (Cf., "Watch Tower Society unfulfilled predictions." Accessed 11 August 2018.

21. This is a bit of Paul's humor.

22. This was the total eclipse in northern Minnesota on 24 of January 1925.

23. A cant hook is a tool used to hook and turn logs.

24. The northern Minnesota winter of 1916-1917 was extremely cold, the fifth coldest winter on record. The following winter was also very cold.

25. The elder Medicine Doctor. Cf., Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women."

26. Paul is referring to the NORAD defense radar (the North American Aerospace Defense Command), which most people in the area were at least generally aware of during the Cold War. In this section Paul is probably actually describing a blimp that went by in the night, in the early 1970s. It was more likely going along at an altitude of 2000 feet than at Paul's estimated 4000 feet.

27. 1918.

28. Paul didn't want to give the name of the child on tape or for publication. Paul Buffalo did this sometimes, and those incidences are not included in this collection. My guess is that this is spiritually related as, generally, people didn't want to fool with people coming back from the dead if they were not related to them. When Paul Buffalo actually didn't know who or what, he would clearly state that he didn't know the information. When he couldn't remember, he would also state -- usually -- that he knew, but couldn't remember at the time. Most of this latter group of items has been edited to include (with his permission) the name/place when that information was given later.

29. See also Ch. 26, "Dreams and Visions."

30. The "village of the spirits" lay four days' journey toward the setting sun from this world. The odjitcag -- the "shadow" or "spirit" of the deceased -- traveled the kewakunah or "homeward road" for four days. Just before the deceased left on the final journey they would sometimes stop and see a close relative or friend. Cf., Timothy G. Roufs, 1975, The Anishinabe of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Phoenix: Indian Tribal Series; Reprinted, Cass Lake, MN: Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, 2013, pp. 13-16.

31. See also Ch. 26, "Dreams and Visions."

32. Lived and worked a small piece of ground. See Ch. 39, "Leech and Mississippi Forks."

33. These log-cabins, log houses, were big in comparison to the wiigwaams, but in modern-day terms they were still very small.

34. See Ch. 36, "Jack Nason, My Dad. My Step-Dad."

35. It isn't true in the sense of being true to the state of nature that it normally has been in; it is still real, but it is not in its normal state.

36. They didn't have inside plumbing and it was usual to go outside as part of being "prepared for going to bed."

37. Their home place was sometimes called "Nason village," but it was just the Nason family settlement.

38. The old people see the "shadow-man" a lot, and he is big in their lives.

39. The man was dressed like a monk, a "brother" in a religious order.

40. He saw his daughter when he was working in the woods on the west side of Mud Lake.

41. He looked over towards a small logging shack that they had there to stay in over night.

42. He felt good all day, and therefore was not hallucinating because of heat exhaustion or dehydration or overwork or because he had a high fever. Paul again ponders this possibility a little later, and addresses it, but eventually Paul concludes that the old man was not hallucinating because of physical stress.

43. His daughter had no problems on her progress on the Road of Life, the pathway of one's life leading ultimately to the next world. Cf., Ch. 11, "Campfire Talks" for discussion of the Road of Life.

44. Her father had a lot of spiritual power, and worked very closely with the spirits.

45. The guy walked from Ball Club, about nine-and-a-half miles north-northeast of the far side of Mud Lake.

46. Note that Paul says ". . . they walked him right down to Ball Club." Ball Club is north-northeast, but they are essentially walking heading downstream.

47. Her father was not making up things to "fill in" part of the story.

48. The Spanish flu lasted from early 1918 to the end of 1920. Known sometimes as "the 1918 flu pandemic," it decimated populations throughout the world, including northern Minnesota. It was unusual in that it killed otherwise healthy young adults. The second wave was deadlier than the first.

49. The old man was determined to go; he was not obligated to go.

50. Paul Buffalo read a lot, and here he is reporting that he read that people who have a very high fever quite often hallucinate.

51. Paul Buffalo translates "superstitious" as "one who believes everything he sees." Cf. Ch. 33, "Messengers and Unusual Events."

52. If one recognizes the warning, "and it's not too late," one can take action to head off or avoid the bad which has been warned about. But one can not do this with someone who has already died, but who has not yet left this earth for good. (It can take the deceased up to four days to get to the next world to which they are going.) With death there is a very strong fatalism. When your time is up, it's up. And you can't do too much about that. As Paul Buffalo said many times, "When the Master calls, you can't say, 'Wait, I'm going to get my cap. No.'"

53. In some ways Paul Buffalo was way ahead of his time. In the early 1970s he was already noting the paradoxical problems of obesity and hunger, something the world widely recognizes now in 2018. Paul's thoughts on it, however, were classic. His reasoning initial went, "The population's so fat that we're going to be very short of food in this world." The reason, he concluded, was that because fat people eat more, and production is not keeping up with the increasing demand, that there will be a food shortage. He also notes, perceptively, that in modern times it costs money to store food (as opposed to the past, in his younger years), and that seasonal crop failures occur -- as they have always occurred in the past -- so we should be prepared for crop failures happening.

54. Paul is talking about government programs like the Soil Bank Program (of the 1950s and 1960s) which took land out of agricultural production, and things (of the 1960s) like farmers "dumping" milk, slaughtering calves and hogs, and destroying other agricultural products as a direct economic action to reduce supplies and increase prices paid to farmers. When Paul would see the intentional destruction of food in the news and on television he did not consider that food to be "surplus." He considered they were destroying essential foods and that destruction would inevitably lead to hunger in some part(s) of the world.

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